Guest post by David Lee
A while back I witnessed yet another example of someone squandering one of the most precious marketing opportunities possible: getting the chance to present in front of a group of potential buyers.
This happened at an association meeting of customer service professionals. A representative from a CRM (customer relationship management) software company had the chance to give a five minute “commercial” because his company had sponsored the event.
Rather than use his precious time to communicate how his business helps solve problems that were relevant to the audience, he simply talked about his company and stated facts about the customer service industry that were common knowledge to anyone attending the conference.
People waited patiently until he was over so the “real speaker” (yours truly) could get up and talk to them about the topic they really were interested in.
I felt bad for this man and his company because I knew they had spent a lot of money to get the chance to tell people how their product could help these potential buyers, and all he accomplished was boring the audience.
Does this sound familiar?
Have you ever been “that guy?”
Maybe you also have been the main speaker at an event or a breakout session at a conference, and found yourself doing what a lot of vendor reps and consultants who aren’t professional speakers do.
Maybe you did any or all of the following:
Start off with a lame joke.
- Transition into a long description of what your company does.
- Spend most of your time giving a “State of the Union” speech that merely reminds the audience of all the problems they were facing and had come to get answers to.
- Give 30,000 foot high “answers” that are commonsense, such as “Give great customer service”, “You need to have quality employees if you’re going to give quality customer service” or “Turnover is costing you a lot; so it’s important to stop turnover.”
- Read off of your PowerPoint slides, bullet point list item after bullet point list item.
Does this sound hauntingly familiar?
If so, it’s time to upgrade your presentational approach by adding stories and concrete examples that make your key points and take away message more understandable, more fascinating, and more memorable.
Here are three of the nearly twenty story genres I teach that will make your presentation—whether it’s five minutes or sixty minutes—far more fascinating and persuasive.
“I Feel Your Pain” Stories – This story genre helps the audience bond with you. It helps them understand that you understand their pain. It also helps get them in touch with their pain, which increases their desire to hear how you can help eliminate their pain.
When I give programs on constructive conversation skill, I often start off with an “I feel your pain” story about a really difficult conversation I once had with a co-worker.
I share my painful initial interaction with my co-worker and then my subsequent reaction to what he said. I share how angry I was at him, how I obsessed about my not having a witty comeback, and how I plotted my revenge. When I share this with groups, I always see nods of recognition. They know exactly what that feels like and…they immediately recognize that I understand their pain, because I have faced the same struggles as they have.
As part of the story, I share my reluctance to bring up the issue with my co-worker, to remind them of their reluctance to bring up difficult issues with difficult people, a reluctance born out of them feeling they don’t have the skills to make the conversation work. This also helps increase their interest in learning the skills that will make them more confident in bringing up difficult issues.
So, number one, sharing this “I feel your pain” story helps them bond with me; it helps them recognize I understand them. Number two, because this “I Feel Your Pain” Story reminds them of the pain they experience because of the problem we will be discussing, the story increases their interest in what I am going to share.
“I Feel Your Pain” Stories can be about your experience with the problem they struggle with, or a story about a client or customer with challenges that mirror theirs. The key is that these stories let them know “I know where you are coming from” and….they get the audience more deeply in touch with the pain the unsolved problem is causing them.
Pain and Promise Stories – Here’s an example of a Pain and Promise Story I start out with when I do management development training. I start off with a story about two managers I met during a consulting engagement to assess employee morale. Management was concerned because they were about to go through major changes and needed everybody to be able to rise to the occasion, and wanted to find out if there were things going on that were diminishing employee motivation and commitment.
After giving the audience the context, I share what I noticed in the focus groups I conducted:
“Depending on who was in the group…or more specifically which manager the people in the group worked for…it was like I was talking with employees from three different companies.
If the people in the focus group were from different teams with different managers, it was an OK place to work. People weren’t all that fired up to go to work, nor were they unhappy. It was basically a paycheck.
However, if they worked for a manager named John…it was a horrible place to work. They regaled me with story after story about how rude and abusive he was, and how much they hated working there. The amount of venting and emoting that went on in those groups made it feel like I was leading a therapy group.
However, If the people in the focus group worked for Harry…it was like I was meeting with people from a totally different organization. They loved coming to work and they were full of pride about the job they did.
Later, I found out from senior management that Harry’s department was the star department of the company. They had the best quality output and the highest productivity. Meanwhile…John’s department was the ‘problem child’ of the company. His quality and productivity scores were the lowest and he had huge turnover problems.
Furthermore, John confided in me how miserable he was because of all the problems he had with his team.
Sadly, he was unaware of how much his behavior was causing his problems.
This is an example of a Pain and Promise Story that compares and contrasts two individuals as a way to connect listeners with the pain caused by the problem they have and also illustrates the benefit—the Promise—that comes from applying the knowledge or skills you are going to present. I like using that story as an opening story because it illustrates so perfectly the pain that managers experience when they use counterproductive management practices and… the price they pay for doing so, without realizing it.
Other Pain and Promise Stories directly demonstrate the value of your work. They depict “before and after pictures” of the pain your client or customer was experiencing before working with you, and then the positive results they got through working with you.
The goal in starting off with a Pain and Promise Story is to dial the audience into “WII-FM”—as in “What’s in it for me?” Because this story genre taps into their pain and offers hope, it grabs their attention.
If you open up your presentation with a Pain and Promise Story, you don’t want to launch into describing your solution, step-by-step. This isn’t teaching time. Remember, your goal is to spark interest, not teach technique.
To heighten your audience’s interest and make them “thirsty” for your “how to” information, start off with a Pain and Promise Story where you share the “before picture”—i.e. a story that relates to the problem that is causing the audience pain— the “after picture”—the positive outcome the client achieved—and then tell the audience that you will share with them later in the session what you did to help your client achieve that positive outcome.
This is called “salting,” as in “give them salt to make them thirsty” for what you are going to tell them.
The story I started this post off with is an example of salting. It starts off with a story that communicates “This is the price you pay for being an uninteresting speaker…a huge lost marketing opportunity”. While I don’t explicitly say “Keep reading and I will tell you how to rectify this,” you understand that is where we are going. If you related to that story—which was chosen because my intended audience CAN relate to that story—you wanted to hear more about how NOT to be “that guy.”
“What I mean by that” Stories – These stories take your key concepts and help listeners understand what they mean at an emotional and visceral level, rather than have them vaguely understood at an intellectual story. So for instance, I gave you examples of what I meant by an “I Feel your Pain” Story and a Pain and Promise Story. I didn’t just explain what they were. I showed you.
This is an important distinction. When we use abstract terms—such as the term “A Pain and Promise Story”—without demonstrating what they mean by giving a concrete examples, we risk people either not understanding what we mean or….risk them believing they do understand, when in fact they don’t.
You prevent this from happening by following each key point with “So for instance…” or “Here’s an example of what I mean…”, and then giving a concrete example or sharing a short story that illustrates that point.
Doing this will make a HUGE difference in your audience’s ability to comprehend what you’re saying.
So for instance, when I give programs on constructive conversations, I talk about the language pattern I call The Multiple Choice Opener. This language pattern makes it more comfortable for people to speak honestly about a tough issue. When I describe the Multiple Choice Opener, I don’t just list the characteristics of this language pattern.
I give the audience an example.
I say “So…for instance…let’s say you did a performance review with Mary…” I then describe the scenario and how I would use the Multiple Choice Opener in that situation.*
By giving a concrete example of what you mean or sharing a short story that illustrates your concept or point, you help the listener play a movie in their mind of what you are talking about, so they can truly understand what that concept looks and sounds like in real life.
By making abstract terms concrete, you help your listeners move beyond “sort of knowing intellectually” what you are saying to fully grasping at an experiential level what you mean and why it’s significant. When this happens, your message becomes more understandable, more interesting, and more persuasive.
So Use Stories to Make Your Points More Understandable and Your Presentations More Compelling
So…don’t be like the typical vendor or professional who has a great product or does great work, but doesn’t know how to talk about it in a way that makes others want to listen.
Don’t blow your big opportunity to spread your message when you do get the chance to speak in front of a group.
Start off your presentations with a story and use stories and examples to make your points come alive.
Doing so will make you a far more fascinating and compelling speaker.
Adding storytelling to your presentations will also making speaking a lot more fun for you, and… it will make listening to you a lot more fun for your audience.
*If you are interested in the particulars of that technique, I have several articles about it, including “Can We Talk?: How to Foster Honest, Open Conversation”
David Lee is the founder of www.StoriesThatChange.com and www.HumanNatureAtWork.com. He has been using and teaching storytelling for over twenty years in both the clinical and business world, and has taught storytelling at conferences and within organizations.
He is the author of Storytelling Techniques for Training, and has had his work published in Tales Of Enchantment: Goal-Oriented Metaphors For Adults And Children In Therapy by Carol H. Lankton and Stephan R. Lankton. For information on individual coaching or group programs on adding storytelling to your speaking, marketing, or coaching, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
microphone photos is courtesy of comedy_nose, creative commons license.